Water for Elephants

Stars: ★★★★

Author: Sara Gruen

Year: 2006

Country: USA 

Genre: Historical – Romance

More than two years on the New York Times bestseller list.


I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other -keeps saying Jacob, a resident in a nursing home that’s not even sure of his age anymore. Everyday he’s told what to do and what to eat, nothing very exciting ever happening to him. So when one day he looks out of the window and glimpses an enormous canvas tent striped in white and magenta -a circus tent, no doubt- he almost has a heart attack. It’s been a long time since he last saw one of those and the visit of this circus in town revives all the memories of the time he worked for the Benzini Brothers as a young man. He remembers everything. The Great Depression, the tragedy that turned his world upside down, how he had to leave his veterinary studies just short of a degree, his time working for a traveling circus taking care of animals. Rosie the elephant. The beautiful Marlena. Her charming but twisted husband August. And a terrific secret Jacob has been keeping for all these years.

Ringling Bros freaks, by Edward J. Kelty, whose photographs inspired Sara Gruen to write this book

Before writing Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen spent some months doing research on Depression-era America and on traveling circuses around the country during the 1920s and ’30s. She got bibliography on the subject, visited museums, studied elephants’ behaviour and talked to circus workers and fans. All this preparation allowed her to be more accurate and provided her with a lot of interesting anecdotes she included in the book. It was delightful to read such great stories and I often couldn’t believe how much intelligent elephants can be.

As regards the plot of the book, I don’t think it is anything so outstanding, however, there’s one aspect of it I do consider remarkable. Gruen introduces the story with a brief prologue, which is actually and extract from the climax towards the end. This introduction practically tells you the most important part of the book but is quite ambiguous at the same time. This way, the expectations you have at the beginning are likely to be very different from what really happens in the end, what makes that final revelation even more astonishing.

Sara Gruen, the author of Water for Elephants

What I like most about Water for Elephants is the author’s writing style. Even the most insignificant sentence adds something to the atmosphere and makes it more graphic, giving you the impression that you’re watching a movie rather than reading a book. The story felt so vivid that I was completely transported back into the 1930s (a period that, by the way, I love ♥). And even though the book is slow-paced, I was never bored, but enjoyed every bit of it.

Another thing of the book I really like is the contrast between the old and the young Jacob. It is amusing to read about his twenties, but I also love those short chapters in which Jacob wakes up and realises he’s a ninety (or ninety-three) year-old man. I find these passages as interesting as the rest of the book and they are often the most touching ones.

Most of the other characters are rather well portrayed in my opinion (August is among my favourites). Nevertheless, I cannot say the same about Marlena, as so little is said or implied about her personality that I could never really get into the character.

I waited for a long time to read this book and I have to say it didn’t disappoint me. I don’t think it is actually a masterpiece, but as an entertaining and delightful novel, it is really satisfying. Do I recommend it? Definitely. I waited almost three months from the moment I decided I wanted it to the day the Amazon package arrived, but in the end, it was totally worth-it. ☜

The clowns of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, by Edward J. Kelty

A performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, by Edward J. Kelty.


– Written by GuadiRC –


8 Responses to Water for Elephants

  1. Pingback: Books – Water for Elephants | Glutton for books, movies & series

  2. What a great review! I might pick this up soon 🙂 Thanks!

  3. Ben says:

    I like Walter a lot. I guess he’s the only character who gets a 360-degree turn, being a cranky worker to a sensible companion. Too bad though he has to be (spoiler) in the end. :]

    Yes, Marlena was not really portrayed and so I can’t make up my mind whether to like her or not. However, annoying as he is, Old Jacob is remarkable. This is one of the things I like about the book. Sara Gruen managed to make Old Jacob and Young Jacob separate and distinct to their age group.

    However some of the people said that the ending was fantasy like. Do you agree with that?

    • fictionworms says:

      At the beginning I didn’t like Walter so much, of course, but as I kept reading and getting to know him better, he became one of my favourite characters. I mean, I really liked him as a person (not like August, whose character is great in my opinion, but of course he’s a son of a *). And I was so sad when that happened :/

      You mean that the end was fantasy like as kind of an utopy? Maybe yes… (SPOILER COMING!). I loved the fact that he did all the way to the circus on his own, but I wasn’t so sure about him finally joining the circus. That seemed pretty fantasy like to me. What do you think?

      • Ben says:

        Actually, Yes it is some-sort of fantasy. In the circus, he will lived happily ever after. Besides it doesn’t really matter if its fantasy or not, Jacob deserves it! :]

    • fictionworms says:

      Yeah, you’re right. I loved Jacob ♥ ha 🙂

  4. Pingback: Movies – Water for Elephants | Glutton for books, movies & series

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